Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Trade and gender training, new research and EIF initiative announced on Women’s Day at WTO


Trade and gender training, new research and EIF initiative announced on Women’s Day at WTO

Trade and gender training, new research and EIF initiative announced on Women’s Day at WTO
Photo credit: EIF Benin

World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director-General Roberto Azevêdo announced new efforts for women’s economic empowerment through trade, including a training module and new research on trade, gender and the environment, at an event at the WTO celebrating International Women’s Day on 8 March 2019. He also reviewed the organization’s broader efforts towards gender balance and inclusivity.

“Gender issues are central to who we are as an organization,” said DG Azevêdo in opening the event. “Achieving gender balance and inclusiveness is an ongoing challenge. That applies to the WTO and to trade and the economy more broadly.”

The event – “Unlocking Trade for Women’s Empowerment through Innovation and Sustainability” – took place more than one year after a large group of WTO members and observers endorsed an initiative to boost women’s role in international trade. The pdf Buenos Aires Declaration on Women and Trade (493 KB) fosters the exchange of information about policies and best practices in this area. It also launched a series of workshops about how gender issues connect with topics such as government procurement and global value chains.

“I welcome the ambition that we are seeing behind this work and the remarkable momentum that it has gathered over a fairly short period,” said DG Azevêdo.

“Today we have come a long way from feeling that trade rules are ‘gender neutral’ to the feeling that the way we facilitate trade ideally must be positively gender biased,” said Shishir Priyadarshi, Director of the WTO’s Development Division.

“Trade is not gender neutral. The deeper I analyse the issues, the more I see the demand for gender-responsive trade,” said Anoush der Boghossian, WTO Trade and Gender Focal Point. “International women’s day is a key annual milestone and it helps us set the tone for the work we will carry out this year,” she said.

New work on trade and gender

During the event, DG Azevêdo announced a training module on trade and gender for officials of WTO members and observers, in response to demand by governments. This module will be offered as part of the WTO’s Technical Assistance programme starting in May 2019.

The event also saw the announcement of a research project looking at the intersections between trade, gender and the environment. “Women play a key role, traditionally, in environmental aspects. Whenever there is an environmental issue, they are the first ones to be affected. They are also part of the solution for environmental degradation and pollution,” said Ludivine Tamiotti, from the WTO’s Trade and Environment Division. The study aims to deepen the understanding of trade’s role in this relationship.

Aside from this new work, the WTO and the World Bank are jointly collecting data to better understand how trade impacts women. The two institutions shared preliminary results at a conference in December. They plan to publish findings in the second semester of 2019.

DG Azevêdo also praised the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) for their “Empower Women, Power Trade” initiative. The EIF is a partnership between the WTO and other institutions to assist least-developed countries in using trade for poverty reduction.

“This initiative is unique, because it exclusively targets women traders in the LDCs,” he said. “The target is that by 2022, the initiative will have directly empowered 50,000 women by helping them secure access to markets.”

“Business as usual is not likely to help us achieve our target of increasing the share of women beneficiaries,” said Ratnakar Adhikari, Executive Director of the EIF. “We have launched a dedicated women economic empowerment programme on International Women’s Day in line with our strategic vision of promoting inclusive trade in LDCs. We have backed our commitment by allocating significant financial resources, which may go up to USD 10 million.”

To watch the full event, click here.

Speech by WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo on International Women’s Day

Good morning everyone.

Let me start by wishing you all a happy International Women’s Day.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to celebrate this occasion once again at the WTO. The theme for this year’s UN International Women’s Day is “think equal; build smart; innovate for change”. That is what we’re all striving to do. So I think this theme fits well with our event today at the WTO.

We also have an opportunity today to take stock of what has been achieved so far and to introduce some new initiatives on trade and gender.

Gender issues are central to who we are as an organisation. And over the past two years we have been putting a much greater focus on them.

In 2017 a large group of members took a decisive step with the pdf Buenos Aires Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment (493 KB) . In addition, we developed the WTO Trade and Gender Action Plan for 2017-2019.

As a result, trade and gender issues are on the WTO agenda like never before.

The Buenos Aires Declaration is providing a platform to better understand the links between trade and women’s empowerment.

As part of this, members committed to organize a series of thematic workshops from March 2018 to June 2019.

Through these workshops, they have been exploring how trade can better promote women’s economic empowerment. And they have been sharing their national experiences and best practices, along with case stories from the private sector.

Three workshops have taken place so far. During those discussions:

  • Members outlined the importance of improving gender-based analysis in trade,

  • They looked at government procurement markets and their importance for inclusive economic development,

  • And they explored how global value chains can foster women’s economic empowerment.

Three more workshops are being planned to look at: the gender aspects of trade agreements; financial inclusion; and new technologies.

The WTO Trade Policy Review process was identified in the Declaration as one of the tools that could be used by members to share information. Since January 2018, six countries have voluntarily reported trade policies targeting women’s empowerment during their TPR.

The Declaration’s proponents are currently working on a report on its implementation to be presented to ministers at MC12.

The key question in all of this is what role does trade have to play? How can it do more to deliver opportunities for women?

So we are working to improve our understanding of this interaction.

In addition to members’ discussions, the WTO is partnering with the World Bank to generate new data on how trade impacts women. Last December, we presented preliminary findings of nine research papers.

These papers looked at a wide variety of issues: employment, e-commerce, wage gaps, Aid for Trade, and access to GVCs.

The work is ongoing and we will release a joint report in the autumn.

In addition, I am happy to announce that we are launching a new research project looking at trade, gender and the environment.

This topic will be discussed in more details during today’s session – bringing in members’ perspectives and examples of current national practices.

In line with members’ requests, we are also incorporating trade and gender into our Technical Assistance Plan.

We have developed the first training module on trade and gender. This will be included as part of the courses delivered by the Institute of Training and Technical Cooperation.

The module explains the interaction between trade and women’s economic empowerment. It examines this question in the context of WTO rules and the different perspectives of members as to how they can be translated into trade policies.

The first training based on this module will take place as part of the least developed countries’ introduction course scheduled for May this year.

Indeed, support for LDCs is an important area here.

Women still make up a significantly smaller share of the formal work-force in LDCs – and, again, trade has a potential contribution to make.

Policy reforms, training, capacity development and targeted projects can play a positive role in unlocking the benefits of trade for women.

So I am pleased that the Enhanced Integrated Framework will launch today a new initiative titled “Empower Women, Power Trade”.

This initiative is unique, because it exclusively targets women traders in the LDCs – aiming to achieve gender parity in LDC trade.

The EIF will be supporting LDC governments to formulate and adopt gender-inclusive policies. Financial support of up to 10 million dollars will be made available from the EIF Trust Fund to help implement projects focused on women’s economic empowerment.

As envisaged in the Sustainable Development Goals, these projects could be aimed, for example, at expanding women’s share in wage gains or securing decent jobs.

The target is that by 2022, the initiative will have directly empowered 50,000 women by helping them secure access to markets. So I want to congratulate the EIF. We look forward to seeing the results on the ground.

Finally, I want to say a word about the WTO itself, as an institution.

We are indeed moving towards a more balanced Secretariat.

Women represent approximately 54% of staff in the organization. So here we have more than just parity. The numbers of women in roles classified as “professional” is rising. At present, women account for 45% of these roles. That’s up from 42% in 2014. So I’m sure we’ll get there.

And putting a spotlight on specific grades can be useful. Look at Grade 9 – the grade just before our top, grade 10. In 1995, women represented around a third of staff at this grade. By last year, it was 55%. That’s a very significant rise.

In addition, under the new performance-based promotions system, most promotions to grade 10 have been women. Three out of four to be precise in performance-based promotions.

At director-level, women continue to be under-represented. Out of 20 directors today, just six are women. Again, we have been moving in the right direction, but not as fast as we would hope given the slow rhythm of openings at that level. But as we have more women at grades 9 and 10, we improve the chances of recruitment for director positions.

We will launch an updated report on gender statistics in the Secretariat in May – transparency is an important part of the process. This will give us a clearer picture of where progress has been made, and where more progress is needed.

Achieving gender balance and inclusiveness is an ongoing challenge. That applies to the WTO and to trade and the economy more broadly.

There will be a number of further opportunities to discuss these issues and check-in on progress throughout the year – including in particular at the Aid for Trade Global Review, which will be held here at the WTO in July.

I am also looking forward to these discussions. Astana is an obvious landmark for all conversations that are now under way today. I have no doubt that the signatories of the Buenos Aires Declaration will be looking ahead to consider what may be possible at MC12.

I welcome the ambition that we are seeing behind this work – and the remarkable momentum that it has gathered over a fairly short period.

At a time when we are all striving to make trade more inclusive, this has to be positive.

If we work together on these issues, we can make a real, lasting difference to people’s lives around the world. I can’t think of a better motivation than that.

So thank you for listening. I hope you have an excellent discussion today, and an excellent International Women’s Day.


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